HENRICO COUNTY, Va. – Seven sheriff’s deputies in Virginia are facing murder charges in the death of 28-year-old Irvo Otieno who prosecutors say was “smothered” while in custody at a state mental hospital, according to reports.
Otieno died March 6 after deputies with the Henrico County Sheriff’s Office transferred him from a local jail to Central State Hospital, Dinwiddie County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill said, according to NBC 12 Richmond.
The inmate died during the intake process after he was “physically restrained” when he became “combative,” the prosecutor’s office said.
The seven deputies that appeared via video conference after being charged with second-degree murder are:
- Randy Joseph Boyer, 57
- Dwayne Alan Bramble, 37
- Jermaine Lavar Branch, 45
- Bradley Thomas Disse, 43
- Tabitha Renee Levere, 50
- Brandon Edwards Rodgers, 48
- Kaiyell Dajour Sanders, 30
Each deputy was placed on administrative leave during the investigation and subsequently surrendered to state police on Tuesday, Sheriff Alisa Gregory announced, according to the New York Post.
“The events of March 6, at their core, represent a tragedy because Mr. Otieno’s life was lost. This loss is felt by not only those close to him but our entire community,” she said in a statement.
“As Henrico County sheriff and on behalf of our entire office, I extend my deepest sympathies and condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Irvo Otieno,” Gregory added.
Asphyxiation was the preliminary cause of death, according to the commonwealth’s prosecuting attorney.
“He died from asphyxia due to being smothered to death, thanks to seven people, including the defendant, on top of him, holding him down,” Baskervill said in court.
Irvo Otieno died while in custody. Seven Henrico County sheriff’s deputies have been charged with second-degree murder. (The Krudys Law Firm, PLC)
Legal analyst Stephen Benjamin with NBC 12 said it is unusual to bring charges against the deputies this fast.
“Prosecutors don’t charge law enforcement officers with serious crimes, and especially murder, lightly, and they shouldn’t. Prosecutors will typically take a very deliberate and careful approach in making these charging decisions, and most often, they will want to involve a grand jury,” Benjamin said.
Attorney Cary Bowen is representing Branch. He said he has not seen any of the videos referenced by the prosecutor.
“Our client has been there for 24 years, and I know the Sheriff is anxiously watching this to see what’s happening,” Bowen said. “Her position, I believe, is still that they were doing the job, doing the best they could. None of them are known as bullies, so I’m curious to see the video the commonwealth attorney has looked at.”
Moreover, the lawyer said that Otieno was known for having a history of mental-health-related issues and that some deputies believe two injections contributed to Otieno’s death. He also believes the prosecutor has engaged in a rush to judgment.
“The Commonwealth Attorney has taken a very aggressive position here, and it’s pretty unusual to go about things the way it’s been done,” Bowen said.
Baskervill argued in court that Otieno died before the unspecified injections noted by Bowen made it into his system.
The judge granted Branch a $15,000 bond and Disse a $10,000 bond. The five remaining deputies are being held until they arrange court-appointed attorneys or legal counsel, according to the news outlet.
They are scheduled to return to court March 21.